I think we’re lucky, really lucky because we live in a civilized and urban world where nearly everything we wish to eat can be easily delivered to our doorstep using an app. The saying “No one knows a man better than his grocer” may well have been usurped by “no one knows a man better than his food delivery app”.
Consider also that talented chef’s today are experimenting and creating Indian haute cuisine in an attempt to command respect globally. Such cuisine is truly Indian but when presented looks identical to the highest quality French cuisine. Chefs are pushing boundaries and opening boutique restaurants where Indian favourites like butter chicken aren’t even on the menu. At such restaurants, the traditional Indian naan is being served stuffed with blue cheese which at times leads first-time diners to inform the chef that the cheese in the naan is spoiled! Yet undeterred, Indian chefs continue to push the boundaries of Indian cuisine.
But while the lifestyles of us big city dwellers continue to change at breathtaking speeds it’s comforting to know that certain things remain immutable. One such unchanging thing is the list of essential ingredients required to make delicious baked foods. Just as dessert always follows the main course of a good meal, so too is carved in stone the etiquette of using 5 specific ingredients when baking. Without any of these 5 ingredients, even the most skilled baker would seem inept when asked to bake.
Butter, sugar, flour, eggs, and salt are 5 ingredients that are a must-have for baking. Take just one away and you wouldn’t be able to make light-as-air biscuits, chewy cookies, flaky crusts and moist cakes. As an expert baker, I take pride in knowing intimately about each of these ingredients and also in knowing, before I use these ingredients, what the delicacy I make will finally look like. This separates me from an amateur baker who using these same ingredients only expects to somehow create a baked food.
Bakers Can’t Do Their Thing without Flour
Of all the 5 ingredients that make up my survival guide, flour perhaps is the most important. Some bakers including me have a special affinity for flour because our hands come in tactile contact with it and flour is the largest and heaviest ingredient in most baked delicacies. Like sugar, there is also more than one variety of flour including all-purpose flour, cake or pastry flour, bread flour, self-rising flour, and whole-wheat flour.
As the name suggests, all-purpose flour can be used to make most baked foods while cake or pastry flour, because it is high in starch and low in protein, is ideally used to make tender cakes and pastries. Bread flour has more protein (gluten) than do other varieties of flour and so it gives a better body to bread and pizza dough making it ideal to make both.
The fourth variety of flour known as self-rising flour is essentially similar to all-purpose flour except that baking soda and salt have already been added to it. This makes it unnecessary to add baking soda and salt to self-rising flour; doing so will actually make the food being baked look and taste different than was intended. Finally, there is whole-wheat flour which adds a fuller flavour to the food being prepared because this flour still has the wheat germ in it. When I want to use whole-wheat flour to bake, I actually don’t use whole-wheat flour alone but actually use it with all-purpose flour. Usually, half the flour I use is whole wheat flour while the rest is all-purpose flour, if I were to add more than this amount of whole-wheat-flour, my baked delicacy would become tougher to chew.
There’s More to Sugar than Meets the Eye
I want to share that there is more to some of these ingredients than meets the eye. To most amateur baker’s, sugar makes food taste sweeter but talking to me about sugar demands delving into the nuances of the varieties of sugar. Sugar to me could be granulated sugar, superfine sugar, confectioners’ sugar or brown sugar.
All these varieties of sugar are used by me as needed when I bake. I also know how to use other ingredients like honey, molasses, or maple syrup. Because I always know what my final delicacy will look like before I begin baking, I know which variety of sugar to use before I begin baking. Allow me to explain, I know that granulated sugar is useful enough to meet most of my baking requirements and that I should use confectioners’ sugar in cake and cookie icing. When I want to make meringues or want to make a cool liquid drink taste sweeter I prefer to use superfine sugar.
Before writing about brown sugar, the fourth variety of sugar I use, I must tell you about molasses. Molasses is the syrup that remains after sugar is crystallized out of cane or beet juice. It is a dark and viscous syrup and there are three varieties of this syrup, light, black, and blackstrap. Each of these varieties of syrup is formed in three different processes when sugar is boiled separating the crystallized sugar from molasses. FYI, brown sugar is actually white sugar that has been flavoured with molasses and it can be substituted for granulated sugar when baking.
Unlike granulated sugar, brown sugar may often lump together and harden. So I’ll share an expert chef’s secret that makes hardened brown sugar soft again, just leave a slice of apple in the bag with brown sugar overnight and viola… by the morning the brown sugar will be finer.
From time to time I also use honey for baking; I use a light coloured honey when I want to bake something that I expect to have a delicate flavour when it’s ready to eat.
Eggs, Salt and Butter are in My Survival Guide
I’m a professional chef and baking is a part of my job. But no serious chef considers baking a job, rather baking is something we are passionate about. Because we are passionate about baking we are also zealous about the ingredients we use while baking. Eggs, salt, and butter are on my list of baking survival essentials because I understand that without them I couldn’t exhibit my skill in baking. Eggs add moisture to a baked food and give it a body as well. Most of my recipes demand the use of large eggs and I use fine grade salt rather than kosher or coarse salt when I bake.
When it comes to butter I usually use unsalted butter in my recipes. I recommend not using additional salt in a baking recipe when salted butter has been used.
Leavener Makes My Dough Rise
In case you’re wondering what baking soda is, it is a leavener and a baking necessity which is why I have added it as the 6th item on my list of 5 ingredients that make up my survival guide. You’ll soon learn why.
Nobody understands the importance of leavener better than we bakers do. There are 3 kinds of leavener namely yeast, baking soda and baking powder.
The most common form of yeast I use is S. cerevisiae, which converts the food/fermentable sugars present in dough into carbon dioxide causing the dough to expand and rise as the carbon dioxide forms pockets or bubbles.
At times I also use baking soda as a leavener. Baking soda is made of sodium bicarbonate and it causes the dough to rise, but I know that if I do not use it within six months of opening it, it goes bad. Finally, the third kind of leavener I use is a baking powder which is slightly more sophisticated than mere baking soda as it has sodium bicarbonate along with the 2 necessary acids needed to help my dough expand and rise.
The crucial difference between baking soda and baking powder is that baking soda reacts immediately when it comes into contact with buttermilk, vinegar, or yoghurt while baking powder causes an extended reaction so that the dough does not expand all at once. For certain recipes, the use of baking powder is preferable to using baking soda.
Bake Short Bread Using Survival GuideIt’s easy to bake shortbread using the ingredients listed above. You’ll need
To begin baking short bread you’ll first need to cream the butter and sugar together until the combined mixture is white and fluffy. Next slowly add eggs to the creamed mixture. After you’ve added the eggs, take the paste and fold it into a mixture of flour and salt using a spatula. You’ll need to use the spatula gently to do this so that the air trapped in the creamed mixture does not escape.
Then use the spatula to give the entire mixture a rectangular shape and let it rest in a chiller for 1 hour. After removing it from the chiller you should roll the entire dough making it 10mm in thickness and then bake it for 13 to 14 minutes at 170 degrees Celsius. Then remove the prepared shortbread and be ready to eat. Remember always to pre-heat the oven.
The Big 5 Ingredients
These five (or six) ingredients are essential for baking; I’m sure after you’ve read this you also understand why. Yet we bakers are innovators and we continue to experiment with new ingredients and recipes. So the list of ingredients I’ve presented above is not exhaustive as new ingredients are being used by talented bakers from across the world in baked foods nearly every year. Yet remember that absent any one of the ingredients above, no baker however skilled can make a delectable baked delicacy